Paul Oh Receives NSF Grant to Develop Mobile Manipulating UAV Technology

July 25, 2012 — The probe droid from Star Wars is one of the most iconic pieces of sci-fi technology. A group of Drexel University Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics professors hopes to one day make it a reality. The team, led by professor Paul Oh of the Drexel Autonomous Systems Lab, was recently awarded a grant of $649,999 dollars from the National Science Foundation for a three- year research study to examine the reaction forces and torques associated with applying robotic arms to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).  

With current technology, most UAVs perform passive tasks such as surveillance and reconnaissance missions, tasks that are performed well above ground. Oh’s team is interested in how UAVs might interact with objects at or near ground level. The group’s research focuses on developing Mobile Manipulating UAVs (MM-UAV) with dexterous arms capable of performing those active near-ground missions. Oh envisions a broad range of applications from infrastructure repair and disaster recovery to border inspection and agricultural handling.

“These types of aircraft will advance field service robotics for things like search and rescue and disaster mitigation. It could help with infrastructure repair; instead of hoisting someone up to a bridge, these robots might be equipped to fly up to the bridge and start welding,” Oh said.

The project’s major challenge involves developing a system that would allow the UAV to interact with objects without upsetting its stability. To gain a better understanding of the forces and torques associated with such interactions, Oh and his team intend to retrofit robotic arms and hands on to a six-degrees-of-freedom gantry that is configured to mimic a UAV’s lateral and longitudinal movements. Using the data gained from the gantry testing, Oh hopes to eventually build a working prototype.

“Like all things that fly you want to make sure they don’t crash, and as this type of flying robot starts manipulating things in its  environment it can often destabilize the vehicle. This is a very challenging design problem that nobody else has ever really attacked.” Oh said.

The proposal, titled Infrastructure for Enabling Mobile-Manipulation Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Research and Design, was developed by professor Paul Oh with the assistance of professors M. Ani Hsieh, James Tangorra and Jin Kang.